“Australians cherish freedom of expression, and they cherish debate. They cherish the role of the ABC in facilitating both”
The Managing Director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has fiercely defended its independence after the ABC was accused of providing a “platform for a terrorist” on a live broadcast earlier this week

Mark Scott’s comments were in response to the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s calls for an urgent enquiry to be conducted by the government, and declaring that “heads should roll” at the ABC.

The ABC’s Q&A programme, a panel talk show on current affairs, featured Zaky Mallah, a controversial figure who had been charged and acquitted of terrorism offences in 2003. Mallah put a pre-approved question to the panel, resulting in a war of words with one of the panellists, an MP, over whether Mallah ought to be banished from the country, and why Australians might be motivated to leave and join Isis.

Scott defended the programme, but conceded Mallah should not have appeared on a live programme. He said in a speech for the annual Corporate Public Affairs Oration: “free speech arguments would be easier if you were always defending Martin Luther King. At times, free speech principles mean giving platforms to those with whom we fundamentally disagree.”

The programme was rebroadcast, leading to the Prime Minister’s remark. Scott shot back on the targeting of the ABC, explaining that Mallah had been given considerable coverage across newspapers and other channels in recent years.

Directly addressing the media storm surrounding the programme and the resulting threats to ABC’s independence: “A question was posed this week,” he continued in his speech, “whose side is the ABC on?”

“The ABC is clearly Australian, it’s on the side of Australia… And the part we play, what we do for the side, is a vital one, central to our culture and our democracy – that of being an independent public broadcaster,” Scott said.

I hope no one seriously wants the ABC to be a state broadcaster

“A state broadcaster is the communications arm of the Government… I hope no one seriously wants the ABC to be a state broadcaster.”

The Prime Minister’s call for an investigation of the broadcaster is in addition to the external review that the ABC announced immediately following the Q&A episode.

This week’s attacks on the ABC were the most serious political interference at the public broadcaster since 1991 when the then Prime Minister called the ABC’s Gulf War coverage “loaded, biased and disgraceful”, according to ABC staff in a union meeting today, the Guardian Australia reported.